Album Review: Whatever Gets Us Through by Jimmy Deveney
By August Edwards
Whatever Gets Us Through by Jimmy Deveney follows the crucial trajectory of Americana. Touching on racial injustice, mental health, and our shared adversity at the hand of COVID-19, this album is the beacon that music listeners may be craving, especially after this year and a half.
The album, recorded with Matthew Tobias at Empty House Studio, is sticky with saccharine-like hope, but it’s not too much. If we're going to love, why tread lightly? If we’re going to support one another and be there for each other, how can we openly express that? In this light, Whatever Gets Us Through gets the job done.
Deveney’s tough messages are masked by congeniality and witticism. The argument can be made that the traditional affability subverts the serious topics, but there is a power to Deveney’s conventionalism. “Crescent Line” is nearly a protest song, alluding to systemic injustices, and it’s in the form of a harmonica-honking, railroad runaway anthem. The lyric “I feel the grass growin’ underneath my toes / My eyes are wonderin’ what there is to see," exhibits the speaker's own subversion of society. Protest songs, I think, are allowed to be fun, and they don't always have to cover all ground; they can just speak to a certain audience (as Americana does).
In every song there are lyrics that are poignant and just plain pretty. Here I cannot convey the cadence of Deveney’s delivery, so I feel good sharing what stirs me, and hopefully you'll be inspired to see how it impacts you upon listening. In the sparkling landscape that is Whatever Gets Us Through, Deveney’s luminous lyrics emit wisdom in a heartwarming package.
The title track “Whatever Gets Us Through,” which appears at the end of the album, clearly represents the central theme, playing with a lot of repetition that isn’t seen elsewhere. What precedes this track is an album where music is used as a vehicle for storytelling; so, I’ll relay some of those stories.
The opening track, “St. Cecilia,” is touted by Deveney as his agnostic hymnal, yet it’s rosy and encouraging, establishing optimism with elegance and flow. His twang has a sharp edge that’s softened by the other voices in the song—Eddie Brewer on keys, Jackie Chacon on the kit, and Jeff Wilson on bass, as well as the lyrics themselves.
“Beside You (I See Stars)” is a song where I’d like to reside; I genuinely relish what it makes me feel. Like a folk song, it unravels like a lullaby for your lover: “Without you I dream in black and white / Beside you, I see stars,” a resolving croon. Building off the first track, Deveney exercises his lyrical charm and adeptness by molding a lovely melody with a fitting rhythm. His raspy guitar tone is soothing, and compliments the baseline’s gentle sway; the song dances on its own.
“I See You” is romantic in a movie-like sense of the word; not portraying a typical, intimate romance, rather, a unifying experience for all who listen. With Latin-influenced rhythms and instrumental devices, the song urges you to light your candles and synchronize a dance with your neighbor. “Keep the Lights On” has a different urgency. With jacked up twang and a darkened tone, it’s like “I See You” in that it's unifying, but it implores the listener to keep moving. “Life is not decided by fortune or fame / It’s the view that we keep and the choices we make / So keep the lights on / In your mind,” Deveney sings. The gravellier tone serves as a memorial to our collective - and not so collective - hardships.
The theatrical introduction to “Better” is a striking contrast to what comes before, and for significant reason; the piece is a tribute to someone close to Deveney’s heart, whom he recently lost. It is a powerful song that speaks frankly and doesn’t falter, and we know it's genuine: “Everyone kept saying it would get better / But you saw no evidence that that was true / Well, it ain’t any better without you.” “Better” lives up to its intention.
Following that heart-wrenching moment Deveney created, the track “The Mountain” is where Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking Like A Mountain” meets Chris Cornell’s “I Am The Highway.” “This is not how it is, it’s just how it is right now / I am immovable / Like a mountain;” “I am not the stream / I am not the snow of winter;” ending with, “There is no me / There is no you." Deveney’s taken a brilliant, timeless attitude and made a brilliant, timeless song.
“Albuquerque,” a reluctant love song, channels Deveney’s personal history with the city, eliciting feelings of youth—foolishness, fearfulness, unnuanced swagger. The refrain “Is it you or myself I can’t stand?” contributes to the album’s roster of slick choruses.
The album gracefully closes with a cover of Willy Nelson’s “She’s Not for You,” which is fitting; Nelson is an icon that this album emulates, representing kindness and sentimentality that shouldn’t be taken for granted.